Review: A Girl Named Sue by Color Arc Productions
by David Glen Robinson
A Girl Named Sue is an innocuous, almost innocent, title for a powerful and hardhitting stage presentation. Other theatre productions in town currently tout their relevance to our political and social state of affairs, and many have called for a new discussion of race in America. Without much fanfare, A Girl Named Sue actually delivers the punch, showing and telling us much about ourselves. This proverbial mirror held up to America is formed of numerous forthright dialogues and monologues, spoken word poetry, and the beautiful songs of Betty Soo, performed live. A Girl Named Sue is must-see theatre.
A Girl Named Sue leads with love in its insistence that we look at our divided past and present. Lights come up on the colorful set of neighborhood coffeebar “The Coffee Club,” situated near a large university. A tiny stage-within-the-stage stretches upstage center; it conveys an embracing atmosphere to support the budding poets and singers who conquer their fears to perform their first works in public. The place as a whole supports with caffeine the students who try to conquer their fears of college papers and exams. Two such are Sue Nguyen (Uyen-Anh Dang) and Talisa (Toni Lorene Baker), who study at the club and fret over their paper assignment “Race and Representation.”
The play throws us quickly into issues of interracial relationships and the struggles of immigrants in America. Sue meets Cash (Matrex Kilgore) who emcees the poetry nights at the club. Sue calls her mother, Mrs. Nguyen (Christine Hoang), who finds it less than OK that Cash is black, and even less OK that he is a poet (no money).
The bilingual, Vietnamese/English structure of the play is brought forward in the phone calls between mother and daughter. Mom knows little English, and Daughter teaches her some in the course of translating phrases she must use. The audience takes a lesson as well.In other scenes Sue teaches Vietnamese phrases to Talisa and Cash, enough so they can share secrets and jokes. Critically, Sue also takes time to wrestle with different terms for love in Vietnamese. Sue is stuck in the web of languages, but it sustains her in very interestiing fashion with her family and various others. Not only that, it's value added for the audience's theatergoing experience.
The forward-looking characters all tell their stories, illuminate their struggles, and enact their hopes for themselves in a brighter future. Unlike many plays, A Girl Named Sue does not stop at harshly lit explications of the problems—we see those every day—but instead the play causes us to think forward to practical solutions. And solutions as always lie within a heart of love, symbolized in the play by, no joke, Mrs Nguyen’s eggrolls.
Director Karen Jambon must receive huge credit for the production’s successful transit of a large number of social and character issues. She created very crisp scenes with playwright Hoang’s clever script, which shows an unusually good ear for spoken dialogue. Also, unlike many other productions in town, director Jambon found nondisruptive solutions to scene transitions, using lighting set changes and actors in character to good effect. This directorial task area would seem simple; much evidence shows that it is not. Kudos to her.
Love songs form a through-line in the play.They are all sung by Betty Soo, the immensely talented local singer-songwriter. Her singing and poetic voices have singular clarity, and together they create delicate but palpable atmospheres of contemplation and personal reverie (“When you hold me close/All the trouble I’ve seen/Disappears/Into the night….”).
Jeffery Da’Shade Johnson as Rashad the coffeebar owner delivers a spoken-word love poem of moving intensity. The poem is his own and Johnson has performed it many times. Its inclusion in Hoang's A Girl Named Sue highlights the inclusive, mosaic nature of the art in this show. The highlights by Johnson and Betty Soo are just part of the production’s many delights, offered by a cast and creative production team talented across the board.
A Girl Named Sue has healing power. It is recommended for all audiences, and it runs from February 24 to March 12, 2017 at the Trinity Street Theatre, 901 Trinity St., central Austin.
February 24 - March 12, 2017
Black Box Theatre, 4th floor, First Baptist Church
901 Trinity Street
Austin, TX, 78701
* Tickets for Reserved VIP tables are very limited. Only 4 VIP tables (2 seats per table) are available per show.
* Unsold/unclaimed tickets will be released 5 minutes before every show for pay-what-you-can admission.
Tickets $15, $25 VIP (early seating and drink), $100 for VIP table for two